A Field in England (2013)
What It's About: With a week to go before the Ben Wheatley-directed season premiere of Doctor Who, here's another Wheatley movie review. What is A Field in England? Well, it's a movie about a group of English deserters who flee a battlefield during the English Civil War and encounter an alchemist, who captures them and forces them to dig for treasure in the middle of a giant field. Also, they're tripping on some psychedelic mushrooms they ate in a stew. Also, it's in black and white, and it has a strobe warning at the beginning.
Why You Should Watch It: In case you couldn't tell from the basic plot summary, this is...a unique movie, to say the least. It's basically a historical thriller with a lot of occult mysticism involved, though how much of it is "real" is ambiguous at best. Whitehead, our protagonist and one of the deserters, is an alchemist's apprentice, and clashes with rival alchemist O'Neill -- played by Michael Smiley, who played Gal in Kill List and will also be in one of Wheatley's upcoming Doctor Who episodes -- over some object of significance that he's stolen from Whitehead's master. While the others dig in a pit for the treasure O'Neill insists is buried in the field, the inevitable "wizard battle" between Whitehead and O'Neill basically comes down to Whitehead eating massive quantities of mushrooms and tripping his head off while everyone else still living tries to shoot O'Neill.
It is a very weird film, even harder to classify than Kill List. You're never quite sure what's going on, and it's unclear -- especially toward the end -- what's actually happening and what's hallucination. It's interesting just how much Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump do with so little. There's nothing to the movie other than five guys in 17th-century clothing and a wide-open field, but it manages to be funny and unsettling and frightening despite being entirely minimalistic. There are a lot of weird shots of the characters standing around in tableaus evocative of woodblock prints from that period, more weird shots of them pulling on a rope they find in the middle of the field for some reason, and some more weird shots of an ominous black planet descending from the sky (to which Whitehead expresses concern that "if you do not cease we may be blasted by an ill planet!"), and after Whitehead eats more mushrooms to gain more magic power so he can defeat O'Neill, there's a sequence that explains why they had that strobe warning. And because it's a Ben Wheatley movie, there's plenty of close-up physical trauma and facial destruction thanks to doglock pistols fired at point-blank range.
If there is a message at all, I think it boils down to "Don't eat those mushrooms you found."
Or maybe that if you find your courage, you can be your own master (and wear a cool coat and hat). But also the mushroom thing.
Available On: Amazon Prime.